What role does incoherent language play in Othello? How does Othello’s language change over the course of the play? Pay particular attention to the handkerchief scene in Act III, scene iii, and Othello’s fit in Act IV, scene i. -
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At the beginning of the play, Othello has such confidence in his skill with language that he can claim that he is “rude” in speech, knowing that no one will possibly believe him (I.iii.81). He then dazzles his audience with a forty-line speech that effortlessly weaves words such as “hair-breadth” and “Anthropophagi” into blank verse lines. But in the moments when the pressure applied by Iago is particularly extreme, Othello’s language deteriorates into fragmented, hesitant, and incoherent syntax. Throughout Act III, scene iii, Othello speaks in short, clipped exclamations and half-sentences such as “Ha!” (III.iii.169), “O misery!” (III.iii.175), and “Dost thou say so?” (III.iii.209). There is also notable repetition, as in “Not a jot, not a jot” (III.iii.219), “O, monstrous, monstrous!” (III.iii.431), “O, blood, blood, blood!” (III.iii.455), and “Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her, damn her!” (III.iii.478). -
Such moments, when Othello shifts from his typical seemingly effortless verse to near inarticulateness, demonstrate the extent to which Othello’s passion has broken down his self-control. In Act III, scene iii, he is still speaking in mostly coherent sentences or phrases; but this is no longer the case in Act IV, scene i. This scene begins with Iago saying, “Will you think so?” and Othello can only helplessly and automatically echo, “Think so, Iago?” (IV.i.1–2). Iago then introduces the word “lie” into the conversation, which sends Othello into a frenzy as he attempts to sort out the semantic differences between Cassio “lying on” (that is, lying about) Desdemona and “lying with” (that is, having sex with) her (IV.i.33–35). The various words and images Iago has planted in Othello’s mind over the...
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